Recent Comments

    Justice for LGBT Students

    aphilEducation is the greatest gift we give to our children. We strive to preserve equal access to it through laws that protect K–12 students from discrimination and harassment in our public schools.

    The need for these laws is dire, especially for LGBT students who face verbal, physical, and online bullying. A survey by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network found 91 percent of LGBT students hear discriminatory remarks, 70 percent are called names or threatened, nearly one-third report physical harassment or assault, and nearly half report cyberbullying.

    These serious problems undermine learning. Students will frequently skip class, or entire days of school, because they feel unsafe, which contributes to much lower grades among bullied students. The consequences can also be much more tragic.

    A Sacramento area 12-year-old named Ronin Shimizu took his own life last year to escape the pain caused by years of schoolyard bullying. The boy’s parents sought aid from the school district, but were forced to shuttle their son from campus to campus, even resorting to home schooling, in a vain attempt to outrun the attacks.

    This shocking example shows that we flirt with disaster by failing to provide swift justice for LGBT kids facing discrimination. So, I was outraged to learn that the California Department of Education was failing to help LGBT students who filed antidiscrimination claims against their schools, were unsatisfied with the school’s response, and appealed to the Department for help.

    The law requires appeals to the Department to be addressed within 60 days because they are the last resort for students stuck in toxic or stifling situations. However, many students have had their appeals go unaddressed for years. Unfortunately, this is not a new criticism weighed against the Department.

    Two years ago, an audit revealed that the Department was systematically failing these students and recommended that the Legislature be informed of actions to solve this problem. Given the persistent lack of resolution, I teamed up with Equality California and the American Civil Liberties Union to hold the Department accountable.

    In May of this year, at my request, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance convened an oversight hearing to discuss these issues. In testimony from the Department, we learned that there was an appeals backlog of 245 cases at the beginning of the year and a 145 case backlog in May. When faced with sustained pressure, the Department responded. It has since reported back to me that the LGBT student appeal backlog is gone.

    Earlier this month, the State Legislature passed a bill I co-authored requiring the Department to take a more proactive approach to help LGBT students in grades 7–12 fight discrimination. If signed by Governor Jerry Brown, Assembly Bill 827 requires the Department to evaluate school districts to determine which have trained educators about supporting students through knowledge of school site and community resources.

    This bill is a chance to repair the damage done from the Department’s neglect by helping foster solutions for students without state intervention. By helping LGBT youth feel physically and emotionally safe, we can ensure greater student success and prevent further tragedies. There is no alternative.

    We cannot abandon these students who already feel alone. We owe them better than that. We must do a better job providing justice for students by protecting LGBT rights at school.

    By providing a safe and supportive environment for all youth, whether they are straight or LGBT, they can thrive.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco as well as the cities of Broadmoor, Colma and Daly City